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Denver launches “Race to Raise,” chance for early-stage companies to win up to $100k

A new competition will help early-stage companies in Denver raise venture capital through its “Race to the Raise” pitch event on June 13. While the prize for the contest is only $25,000, there’s an additional $75,000 at stake in the future, meaning the winner could ultimately net $100,00 in venture capital from the Denver Venture Showcase, part of the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED).

“There is no shortage of early-stage firms that are doing great things in Denver,” says Mayor Michael Hancock. “We’re committed to doing all we can as a city to spotlight these firms, foster additional growth and investment, and propel our culture of innovation to an even higher level.” 

Indeed, the city and OED offer a myriad of events and opportunities throughout the year to support the industry of nascent companies. Chief among them are the Commons on Champa and Denver Startup Week

The OED is offering the contest to early-stage companies that have raised at least $250,000, but less than $4 million. In addition to the grand prize, two runners up will each receive $15,000.

Whichever company is the first to raise an an additional $500,000 in equity or convertible debt within six months, will receive a $75,000 boost from OED, the office says.

“We’re tremendously excited to send the winning firm to the Colorado Venture Summit,” explains Turid Nagel-Casebolt, director of business development at OED. “With investors from around the nation, the Summit offers incredible potential for a growing firm to land a significant amount of operating capital. This could truly be a quantum boost for a small firm that is just beginning to learn how to present itself, demonstrate promise, and raise funding.”

In addition to raising the required capital, the entrepreneurs must demonstrate that they have developed a growth and job creation plan to help grow Denver’s economy. Companies can apply to participate in the competition through June 2 via this link

They will be judged by local startup experts and scored by Denver-based Valid Evaluation’s evidence-based platform. The judges will select finalists to compete at the June 13 event which is being hosted at Holland & Hart, a co-sponsor along with US Bank. They will have five minutes to pitch their company to the judges.
 

Who is the best CEO in Denver? Here's one pick.

The best-rated CEO of a public company in the US is Craig Jelinek, CEO of Costco. The best-rated CEO in Denver, however, scoring higher than Jelinek is Convercent’s Patrick Quinlan, according to Owler's inaugural Top-Rated CEO Rankings. The rankings are based on more than 250,000 insights gleaned from members of the crowdsourced business intelligence platform. 

“Owler’s first annual list of top-rated CEOs is the only official ranking that provides a true market view of America’s best-loved leaders,” contends Jim Fowler, founder & CEO, Owler. “These executives received high approval ratings from employees, suppliers, partners, and even competitors, to beat out 99.4 percent of other CEOs featured on our platform. They truly are the best of the best in the global marketplace.” 

While CEOs of numerous private companies scored as high as 99.9 on the points system, Jelinek accumulated a rating of 94.9 points, according to Owler. Quinlan, CEO of Convercent, an enterprise compliance management and analytics software firm, outscored Jelinek with 96.1 points out of 100 possible. Other high-ranked CEOs in Denver were Ombud’s Thad Eby who scored 94.3 points; and Cloud Elements’ Mark Geene, who scored 93.3 points, and Ping’s Andre Durand who scored 92.5 points.

The rankings include all CEOs across 50 cities covering 25 industries, according to Owler. In order for CEOs to receive a ranking they must have at least 10 ratings. Owler asked employees, followers, competitors, and other general users to rate CEOs. Ultimately the company says it analyzed approval ratings of the top 5,000 most-rated chief executives. 

This gives the company more insight into how company leaders are seen in a region. For instance, Owler notes that Denver’s CEOs had an average score of 65.5 points. As such Denver struggled to make it into Owler’s Top 30 Cities list, coming in at number 27. Owler says that suggests Denver’s business leaders aren’t as well-liked as in other cities, like Nashville, where CEOs had an average approval score of 82.4 points. 

Results for Denver’s CEOs can be found here: https://www.owler.com/ceo-ratings.htm?cityName=Denver
 

With more than 1,000 proposals in Denver Startup Week is ready for your votes

The nation’s largest free entrepreneurial event—Denver Startup Week—received a record 1,039 session proposals this year. That’s up from 944 proposals submitted last year. Now it’s up to the public to help organizers choose which sessions should be held—last year the event hosted more than 300 programs. 

“Our entrepreneurial community is the envy of cities across the country,” says Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “We now have nearly 700 tech startups in Downtown, employing close to 5,000 people. Companies large and small are coming to Denver to positively impact our economy and help grow our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

“We continue to be impressed with not only the volume, but the quality of proposals submitted and now it’s up to the entire entrepreneurial community to help tell us what programs they find the most interesting and valuable,” says Ben Deda, vice president of channels and ecosystems at Vertafore and co-leader of the event’s organizing committee.

The organizers will accept votes for Denver Startup Week through May 28, 2017. The event's organizing committee will sift through the results and determine which proposals will become sessions during the sixth annual startup week from Sept. 25-29.

In addition to the five tracks of Denver Startup Week—Founder, Growth, Maker, Product, Designer, and Developer—this year’s schedule also will include topic and industry clusters focused social impact, the Internet of things, health care technology, diversity and inclusion, cannabis and business basics. 

“When more than 1,000 people step up to share their insight and knowledge with others, it signals that Downtown Denver continues to be one of the best places in the country to start and grow a business,” said Erik Mitisek, executive director of Project X-ITE at the University of Denver and co-founder of Denver Startup Week.

To help people wade through the potential sessions and vote, organizers recommended that voters search for trends, themes and topics that interest them. They can also sort session proposals by cluster and organize sessions by their favorite track. Site users can vote on each session once.

ParkiFi partners with Parkmobile, hoping to lure new customers with combined services.

As anyone who works or visits downtown Denver knows, parking is a pain. Now, Denver-based ParkiFi is making it easier to park by adding new features to its smartphone app. Previously, it could only show users where parking was available—but now users can pay for parking from the app. To help raise awareness ParkiFi is giving away a year of free parking in downtown.

“We’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm around our real-time parking spot finder app since we launched in November, but we think users are really going to get excited about the payment capability,” says Ryan Sullivan, CEO and co-founder of ParkiFi.

The new capabilities are thanks to a partnership with Parkmobile, which allows transactions via smartphone. While ParkiFi was launched in Denver, it could prove a valuable service in any metro area in the US.

“Our goal is to make parking as easy as possible for Colorado drivers, everything from finding a spot to payment” Sullivan explains. “They can focus on getting to where they need to be downtown without worrying about where to park and how to pay, saving even more time and eliminating the headache of forgetting to pay for parking or potentially getting a ticket.”

ParkiFi is valuing the year of parking at up to $2,000. The company explains that people can enter the contest by downloading ParkiFi and using it to find and pay for parking at downtown properties where they can use ParkiFi between now and July 31. Each time a person uses ParkiFi, they’re entered into the contest. After that it will select a winner at random and work with them to find the best place for them to park for the year or reward the winner with a $150 a month credit to their ParkiFi account.

Currently ParkiFi is only available in downtown Denver, but the company plans to expand its capabilities into other Denver neighborhoods soon. "ParkiFi’s parking sensors are being used by parking operators and municipalities at 24 locations in 11 states and 13 markets to obtain valuable analytics on parking patterns including occupancy, turnover and more," says Abby Hagstrom, a spokesperson for ParkiFi. "ParkiFi is also excited to announce a new partner, Parking Revenue Recovery Services, which will increase ParkiFi's coverage in Denver by over 2,000 spaces."

CodeSpire summer camp for kids takes off with new drone, robot options

Just in time for summer, CodeSpire is launching new programs. It’s a summer camp for the 21st century, a coding camp for children to help them learn about how they can use coding to make games, apps and even how to program drones and robots. 

It’s the second year for CodeSpire, says Director Rebecca Parrent. “We have full day camps, as well as half-day camps with other on-site half-day camps from Science Matters, Sticky Fingers, and Play On!” The summer camps include CodeSpiration, exploring multiple coding languages; Python coding, to learn game coding and JavaScript camps for Minecraft mods and drones and robots. It’s the first time CodeSpire is offering a camp to program drones.

The deadline for the June camps, the first of which begin on June 12 is May 31. They’re held at a number of places in and around Denver, including Golden and Aurora. “Campers at the CU Denver campus will receive a campus tour, as well as see some technology programs that are offered at the university,” Parrent says.

Each camp can hold up to 15 people for full-day camps and 10 people for half-day camps. The day camps cost $495 and the half-day camps cost $295. However, Parrent says Confluence Denver readers can use the code “confluence" to get a $75 discount on a full-day, week long camp, if they use the code by May 15.
 

Galvanize, Women Who Code Partner to Increase IT Opportunities for Women

Late last month Denver-based Galvanize partnered with Women Who Code (WWCode) to increase opportunities for women in technology positions through access to education, resources and other pathways.

"Galvanize's continued support for WWCode demonstrates a commitment to empowering women to become leaders in the tech industry,” says WWCode Vice President of Partnerships Jennifer Tacheff. “This partnership helps to propel our catalytic work of providing training and skills for women to level up in their careers, so they can innovate and continue to shape the future of tech." 

Through the collaboration Galvanize is now recognized as an official WWCode school.

“We are thrilled to be an inclusion partner of WWCode, whose mission to inspire women to excel in technology careers is one which we wholeheartedly support,” said Galvanize CEO Jim Deters. “At Galvanize, we are committed to investing in technology and education that is accessible to anyone — specifically the traditionally underrepresented — with the determination and drive to learn the skills they need to transform their lives.”

Bold Legal and Innovation Pavilion partnered to offer legal services for startups

With so many startups launching in the Denver and greater Front Range region, there’s a need for legal help designed to meet startups’ needs, from establishing company bylaws to organizing business operations and more. To meet those needs, Innovation Pavilion (IP)—a startup center—in southern Denver has started Bold Legal to provide counseling and legal services. 

“A legal structure is crucial to the success of any entrepreneurial venture and we are excited to extend this fantastic resource to our community,” explains IP CEO Vic Ahmed. “We are grateful for Bold Legal’s support and I am certain our community will reap many benefits from their work.” The organization has a history of making innovative partnerships to help its tenants start and grow their businesses.

Bold Legal will provide a number of services including regular monthly hours and free access to legal advice for IP’s tenants. Also, Bold Legal’s first billable hour for IP’s tenants will be free. It will provide insight into issuing equity, raising capital, hiring and more. It will also provide a ‘starter suite’ of documents and forms for IP’s startups, including bylaw and articles of incorporation forms, investment agreements, non-disclosure agreements and more. 

“More than a co-working space, Innovation Pavilion is a training ground, a social capital nexus and a home for the entrepreneurial community of Colorado,” says Bold Legal founder and attorney David Ray. “Entrepreneurs and startup companies deserve fearless service providers. Our job is to facilitate evolution, simplify complexity, push through the conventional envelope and smooth the way for great ideas to change industries. We are delighted to partner with Innovation Pavilion and, together, deliver exceptional value to Colorado’s rich entrepreneurial community.”

The legal firm, which has offices in Denver and Boulder, also will co-sponsor IP’s monthly “Access to Capital” events. The events include panels of venture capital, angel and other investors who will discuss the capital-raising process for entrepreneurs and startups.
 

BuildStrong Education launches, supporting a foundation for education in the Front Range

Oakwood Homes has built its Foundation for Educational Excellence into BuildStrong Education. The newly launched foundation renews its focus on creating high-quality schools and improving the relationship between communities and schools to build bonds that make neighborhoods safer and stronger.

The Foundation for Educational Excellence was launched by Oakwood Homes Founder Pat Hamill in 1997. The Denver-based residential developer, has helped fund and plan numerous schools in communities it’s developed. It has invested more than $4 million into educational programs in Green Valley Ranch, Montbello and the broader Front Range. The initiatives have included professional development, student recognition, new school development and the creation of collaborative public/private partnerships. 

“Pat Hamill’s dedication to building strong schools has created tremendous educational opportunities for our children in far Northeast Denver,” explains Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “If we want great communities, the schools will lead the way, and Oakwood Homes’ BuildStrong Education is setting the stage for these schools to soar.”

The new organization has a focus on northeast Denver, where it says only 34 percent attend high performing schools, which it calls the lowest rate in the city’s school districts. That’s despite it housing two of Denver’s highest performing schools.

The organization also will support the recently launched Colorado Homebuilding Academy. That organization is aimed at training students and others to find gainful employment in construction industries. In Colorado there are currently more construction jobs than workers. 

Co.Starters now offering (an affordable) boot camp for would-be startups

The Co.Starters program has graduated more than 3,000 entrepreneurs nationwide and now it’s coming to Denver’s Commons on Champa. The nine-week business development program will launch on May 17 and will help participants learn about launching businesses with a community of peers. 

“This nine week program equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships and tools needed to turn business ideas into action. Unlike traditional platforms, Co.Starters applies the lean business modeling methods popular among high-growth startups to businesses of all kinds,” explains Jacqui Dietrich program manager at the Commons.

“The program is new to The Commons and will be a regular offering focused specially on women and minorities,” Dietrich says. However, she adds, “The Co.Starters program is open to any new business or new product idea, regardless of sector or industry.” While this is the first time the program is launching in Colorado, it’s been used in other cities including Chattanooga, Cincinnati and Detroit. 

“Up to 15 aspiring entrepreneurs will be admitted to the first Co.Starters at The Commons cohort. The deadline to apply for the upcoming cohort is May 3,” Dietrich says. The program, supported in part by the Kauffman Foundation, will cost participants $125 including curriculum and meals. 

The program, Dietrich says, helps participants understand their assumptions about their businesses and how they will work and then enables them to talk with their target customers to validate their ideas. “This approach enables entrepreneurs to rapidly uncover flaws in their concepts and find viable models more quickly,” she says.

The Commons plans to offer cohorts on a rolling basis. Entrepreneurs can apply here and successful entrepreneurs who wish to serve as mentors for the program can register to help here. 

Want to get into the brewing business? Colorado Enterprise Fund will show you how

When Colorado Small Business Week launches on April 30, the Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) will host a number of  events showcasing the state's smaller enterprises helping entrepreneurs launch new businesses. To help them capitalize on the regional brewing craze, CEF, for the first time, is hosting a workshop aimed at craft beer startups. The workshop, Crafting Success: From Home Brews to Beer Biz, will be hosted at the Commons on Champa on May 5 from 1:00 pm–2:30 pm. 

“With the increase in brewery startups CEF is financing in Colorado, we felt it would be helpful to showcase some of our successful borrowers so others could see it’s possible to follow your dream and make a living,” says Alisa Zimmerman, director of marketing and communications at CEF. 

The event will feature Chad Miller of Black Shirt Brewing Co, Brian O’Connell of Renegade Brewing, Tom Jasko of Colorado Craft Distributors and David Levesque of Launch Pad Brewery. Each of the companies received support from CEF. For instance, Renegade recently expanded into a 15,000 square-foot warehouse and received a working capital loan from CEF in August 2016. 

CEF also is supporting ancillary brewing businesses, like Colorado Craft Distributors, which launched in 2016. The business is a wholesaler of beer, cider, spirits and wine. The founders received a working capital loan from CEF in 2017.

“The featured borrowers each produce, package and distribute their products differently, and may share info on resources they use. We expect them to touch on these areas depending on their current operations and future plans,” Zimmerman explains.

As part of Colorado Small Business Week, CEF will host other events, including tours of refugee and immigrant small businesses in Aurora. It also will host the Colorado Emerging Ventures Breakfast, where entrepreneurs will learn about what a business needs to qualify for a loan. CEF also will host the SBA Colorado Business Week Awards Reception on Wednesday, May 3 at Denver Public Library.

Denver Startup Week Accepting Session Proposals Through Friday

The nation’s largest free startup event, Denver Startup Week, is gearing up for 2017 and it wants your input, soon. The event, which will take place Sept. 25-29, is seeking ideas for sessions in six different tracks to help entrepreneurs learn about launching and growing startups. The deadline for submissions, however, is April 21.

The sessions are in addition to headline events, which bring industry leaders to discuss entrepreneurship, launching a startup and more. The track categories this year include designer, developer, founder, growth, maker and product. Each is intended to address the functional roles in a startup team and will be led by industry experts. 

Last year, the event brought more than 13,000 people to 300 sessions. Organizers, including the Downtown Denver Partnership, Colorado Technology Association and Startup Colorado, expect this year’s startup week, the sixth, will attract even more attendees.

After the deadline passes track chairs will evaluate the submission proposals and approve them for voting on by the community. Then the organizing committee will use the votes and comments to guide the selection and scheduling process.

Sessions in the past have included individual and group presentations as well as panels, workshops and social events. Organizers said that ideas focused on transferring knowledge to the community have the best chance of being selected. T

Innovators, entrepreneurs and others can register and submit proposals here: SUBMIT A TOPIC.

Two teams from Denver make it to Go Code Colorado’s next round

The annual challenge to use public data to create business insights in Colorado, Go Code Colorado, is getting ready for the mentorship weekend April 21-23. Two Denver teams, <div>ersity and Magpie Supply, are among the finalists. In all, more than 230 people participated in the Challenge Weekend events this year. 

“Each year, Go Code Colorado participation and enthusiasm increases across the state,” said Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, whose office runs the contest. “The high-caliber app and business concepts created during challenge weekend will further encourage government entities of all sizes to make their data available to developers and entrepreneurs so its inherent value can be fully utilized.”

The first team, <div>ersity, is harnessing data to create a hiring tool that will help companies build diverse teams. The other team, Magpie Supply, is using data to solve transportation problems for farmers. 

Both teams will join the other finalists in the expenses-paid mentoring weekend. During the weekend,the finalists will have a chance to discuss their ideas with leaders from Techstars, Boomtown, House of Genius and others from Colorado’s tech and entrepreneurial community. 

After that, they will compete for three $25,000 awards, which will be decided in a final competition on May 24. The awards will help the winners move their ideas into the next stage as apps or startup businesses.
 

Low-income Coloradans could lose small business funding under budget proposal

Denver’s Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) is warning that important funding for low-income communities in Colorado is at risk under President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal. The Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund has issued $40.3 million to Colorado’s 15 CDFIs, including CEF. 

Local CDFIs are able to leverage every $1 in federal funding with up to $12 in private investments from banks, foundations and other funding partners, explains CEF President CEF Ceyl Prinster. “The total economic impact of CDFI grants in Colorado is as much as $480 million supporting businesses, affordable housing and nonprofit community projects.” Under the budget proposal all that economic development could be at risk as the Trump Administration has proposed slashing CDFI’s, says CEF President CEF Ceyl Prinster. 

“CEF was the first mission-driven lending organization in Colorado certified by the CDFI fund in 1996 to serve low-income and minority populations. Over the last two decades, CEF has leveraged $8.5 million in CDFI fund awards to loan more than $58 million, financing nearly 2,000 small businesses in our state,” Prinster states.

The fund has a national budget of just $250 million, Prinster asserts that the CDFI fund costs each American just 79 cents annually.

“CDFIs fill a vital need in the nation’s financial services eco-system by serving communities and market sectors that conventional lenders cannot,” Prinster says. “The ultimate goal of CDFIs is to bring their customers into the mainstream economy as bankable businesses, home owners and/or individuals.”

Indeed, the fund has the support of major banking associations, including the American Bankers Association, who have issued a letter to Congress in support of the CDFI fund.

Denver takes advantage of a soaring economy with JumpStart 2017

Last week Denver introduced JumpStart 2017, its sixth annual strategic jobs plan for economic development.

JumpStart is more than an annual strategy, it is a statement of values for how Denver builds a local economy that secures our community’s legacy and maintains our city’s unique character in the years ahead,” according to Mayor Michael Hancock, who unveiled the plan, put together by the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED).  “In 2017, our eyes are squarely focused on taking the necessary strides to help ensure that all residents have the opportunity to benefit from Denver’s vibrant economy.”

As such, the plan focuses on increasing economic mobility and establishes anti-displacement strategies in certain neighborhoods. In 2017 that focus will include the neighborhoods of Montbello, Westwood, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. The strategies are designed to help uplift ailing neighborhoods while reducing urban poverty. 

The mayor’s office said that the JumpStart is helping to create jobs in Denver. The previous year’s report aided the development of nearly 3,000 new jobs and assisted the city in retaining 7,000 jobs, according to the office. The strategies helped spur $111.4 million in capital investments and also funded the creation of 579 affordable homes. 

“With strong employment and wage growth, Denver has led the nation as one of the most vibrant economies,” explains OED Executive Director Paul Washington. “We’ve thoughtfully identified goals for JumpStart that we believe will make the most of the opportunities before us.”

The 2017 strategies include encouraging developers of projects financed by OED to hire low-income residents for entry-level positions. It also will support the creation of a maker space, a collaborative space to allow entrepreneurs access to manufacturing resources. The plan will also help create cooperative business ownership models in the targeted neighborhoods.

Colorado Homebuilding Academy trains workers for an industry that badly needs them

One of the continuing stories across Colorado, and the Denver metro area in particular, is growth. The region is experiencing nearly unprecedented employment and population expansion, thanks to numerous sectors like, such as IT and cannabis. That has also led to a construction boom and the demand for more housing, which means it needs construction workers. That’s where the newly launched, Colorado Homebuilding Academy fits in. 

The Denver-based academy is aimed at training unemployed adults, military veterans and youth for careers in homebuilding and construction. It offers a "construction skills" boot camp that lasts for eight weeks. The academy already has partnerships with five high schools. “We have high school training programs that last for a semester with our partner schools and our superintendent training program has 5 courses that last for about 9 months,” explains Michael Smith, director of the Colorado Homebuilding Academy.

“The training programs are offered at no cost to the participant if they can genuinely commit to wanting to enter the construction industry and are ready to start a career after training,” Smith says. “The tuition is covered by a blend of supporters from industry contributions, local government workforce development offices, and community grant programs.”

The need for construction workers is greater than ever as vocational training programs have waned. “Our peers in commercial construction (Associated General Contractors) commissioned an economic impact report that stated over 30,000 people are needed for the Colorado construction industry over the next 5 years...and that count is not including those that are retiring over the same period,” explains Michael Smith, director of the Colorado Homebuilding Academy. 

“Over 80 percent of the builders polled by NAHB are experiencing labor shortages that are slowing down the home building process,” Smith adds. Nationwide that means the homebuilding industry could add roughly 200,000 employees to meet the latest homebuilding boom. 

The new academy was initiated by Oakwood Homes’ CEO Pat Hamill, who brought the industry together to support it. “Oakwood Homes is leading the industry by providing substantial financial support for the development, operations and student tuition assistance programs for the Colorado Homebuilding Academy,” Smith says. “Precision Building Systems, a manufacturer of trusses and wall panels for residential construction, has donated 25,000 square feet of their manufacturing plant to house the Academy offices and training center.”

“The homebuilding industry has been plagued by a shortage of high-quality workers,” Hamill says. “Preparing and training the workforce is the key to ensuring our industry remains healthy.”

 
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